After four long years of waiting my opportunity came – by chance as it seemed. For countless nights I had lain awake, thinking it through, planning and plotting, rehearsing the words I would say, visualising the necessary actions, and now when I was quite unprepared it presented itself in the most unexpected way.
The door to my cell crashed open and the guard said, “Kostyal, the supervisor wants to see you in his office.”
Startled, I looked up, “Me?”
“Yes, you! Don’t keep him waiting! Go!”
As, watched by numerous other guards, I hurried out into the corridor and up the two flights of stairs I went through the last few days in my mind, carefully checking to see if I had done something deserving of a reprimand, but nothing came to my mind. This only increased my anxiety, and I was skittering from one possibility to another as I reached his office and tried to calm my breathing before tapping on the door.
“In!” the sharp voice called, and entering I stepped forward to his desk and stood before it with my hands by my side and my eyes lowered in the approved manner of those who were there to serve.
There was a long silence as he studied me, his eyes taking in every detail from my shaven head to the crumbling shoes on my feet.
“You speak good, educated Hungarian,” he declared. It was not a question and required no answer. I waited.
“Becze has fallen and has severe concussion. There is no one else.” Another long pause followed these blunt statements. My anxiety about punishment began to slip away, and puzzlement and curiosity took its place.
“Professor Zsigmond must be escorted to the Senate and his words translated. Can you do this?”
“Yes, your honour.” I had visited the Great Chamber once in the days before the insurrection, in the days of peace, but had never expected to be permitted near it when the Senate was in session.
“Those rags will not do,” and he flicked a finger at my working uniform. “Go to the stores. They will give you something more appropriate,” and he slid a note across his desk.
I picked it up and dropped it into my shirt pocket before returning to my ‘stance of humbleness’. Hope was beginning to put out cautious tendrils, but withdrew themselves sharply at his next words.
“Two escorts will bring him to meet you at the Great Steps in one hour. They will be his Guard of Honour.”
Yes, that is what he would call it. We had another name for it, and I began to wonder what it was that he was supposed to say to the Senate. He was unlikely to be speaking of his own volition and out of his own heart.
“Well, don’t just stand there! Go!” his words jolted me out of my preoccupation and I made the required obeisance and left the office, closing the door as gently as possible.
Could I make anything of this opportunity, I wondered as I hurried to the stores, collected a dress uniform and took it to my cell. The prison guard would not come with us, he would wait for our return, no, the Guard of Honour were the problem. They would have been instructed not to let us out of their sight. But there might be a chance somewhere along the way, if I was alert and ready for it. The one great advantage was the fact that the professor and I could speak together in Hungarian, and I began to think through the possibilities this presented, while I slipped one or two unusual items into the inner pockets of my uniform. I was hopeful that I would not be rigorously searched today.
An hour later I was standing at the foot of the Great Steps waiting for the professor and his escort. I had a plan clear in my mind which I hoped would give me the opportunity I needed while protecting the professor from danger. It was not my place to put him at risk; he was too important to us, and must remain innocent of any disobedience which would bring trouble down upon his head.
I straightened up and assumed the stance of humbleness as he descended the steps and approached me.
“Your name, young man?”
“Kostyal Sandor, Professor,” I replied making my obeisance.
“Thank you, Kostyal,” he murmured, and as I dared to raise my eyes for a second, he smiled briefly at me, the only sign he could make to let me see he knew who I was.
Leaving my guard behind, we proceeded down the avenue towards the waiting car, myself half a step behind him, and our escort on either side. Now was the time to begin.
“Honoured sir, perhaps you could tell me something of what you are going to say, so that I may be the better prepared,” I suggested, and then slipping into Hungarian, “Is there any way in which I can assist you?”
“That seems to me an excellent notion – especially as we have not worked together before today. No, I have no immediate needs, but I think perhaps you have something in mind for today?”
“Good. If you would begin I will then be able to ask for clarification of anything I do not understand. I want to get out of the capital and into the mountains. But not if it might bring danger to you.”
“My speech is not highly technical, Kostyal. If it were, the senators would not understand it. But I will begin. I have some ideas we can discuss as we go.“
By the time we had driven across the city and reached the Senate House we had roughed out a plan which would enable me to be free of the escort at the end of the day. To my surprise I discovered that there were two or three senators secretly sympathetic to our cause, and Zsigmond would draw them into conversation and then ensure that he and his escort were invited into the inner sanctum, leaving me to wait for him.
Marching smartly down the street, protected by my dress uniform, I was heading for the station and freedom when a cry stopped me in my tracks.
“Kostyal!” Horrified, I turned.
A group of young people had just come out of a restaurant, and one of the girls broke away from them and approached me.
“It is you!” she laughed. “I couldn’t be sure. Does my father know where you are?”
“Yes honoured miss. Supervisor Kales sent me here.”
“That’s alright then. When you’ve finished your business you can escort me home,” and tucking her arm into mine she turned towards her friends explaining, “This is the great Hungarian hero, Kostyal Sandor, and he’s going to keep me safe from all harm today!”
Their laughter rang out as my hopes laid down and died.
Apart from a generalised setting of Russia and Hungary in the time of the Soviet Union this story is entirely fictional. The names were plucked out of a book of babies’ names!!